For enthusiasts of 5th generation (5G) mobile networks technology in the private sector, it’s hard to understate the positive impacts. The expansion alone is expected to create 3 million new jobs and spur $500 billion in economic growth. However, there are also the transformational changes 5G will bring to industries such as utilities, transportation and healthcare to solve challenges current technology cannot overcome.
That ambitious vision was universally shared by panelists at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s June 21 Eastside Leadership Conference at the Microsoft Conference Center in Redmond. The emerging technology was compared to other technological inventions such as the printing press, the airplane and the automobile.
For enthusiasts, what makes 5G so promising is the speed with which it operates: 100 times faster than 4G. In a world where 95 percent of information is digitized, faster speed means more rapid innovation. AT&T Vice President and General Manager Morgan Collins told attendees that 5G will “perform tasks that are more difficult to perform today. Ultimately, 5G will save lives.”
For healthcare, 5G can enable people in remote areas to access medical services physically located at a hospital. Or, 5G will eliminate trips to the doctor altogether.
“It’s not about the hospital even. It’s about connecting the patients to resources that are in the hospital,” Cisco Product Management Director Jono Luk said.
Luk added that in medical emergencies 5G could allow doctors to examine a patient via virtual reality (VR). “Decisions can be made while they’re stuck in traffic.”
That same VR capacity could change people’s entertainment to something like that depicted in the 2018 film Ready Player One, with children and adults walking around physical parks while interacting with games using VR goggles.
T-Mobile Engineering Services Vice President Grant Castle envisions a holistic transformation of how people organize their day through a “smart” digital assistant with access to enough data to make decisions for them such as rebooking flights and postponing an alarm clock due to insufficient sleep.
“Someone wakes you up when you need to,” Castle said. “He knows everything. So, given that I can have him do a lot of things, he’s a very advanced assistant.”
Passwords might also become a thing of the past, replaced with secret passphrases, he added.
Incidentally, Castle also anticipates 5G phones will get “dumber” because more data will be stored on in the cloud rather than in the device.
Other breakthroughs with 5G could benefit “smart” cities that incorporate the technology into services such as upgrading or connecting public utilities. Collins said 5G will become “a competitive advantage for any municipal business that is taking advantage of it.”
That viewpoint was also shared by Mohamed Bahardeen, a solutions architect with Cisco, a Silicon Valley-based technology company. “We see tremendous opportunity across the board for all of us to take advantage. 5G will be a critical component of that when it is ready.”
The same VR technology that allows doctors to provide care to patients elsewhere, or gamers to combine physical and online interaction, can make it possible for experienced utility technicians to aid workers trying to fix a water leak or electrical problem who lack the knowledge.
“They can simply put on VR and talk to a three-tier technician hundreds of miles away,” Collins said. “One dispatch, one resolution first time.”
For both businesses and cities, 5G can aid transportation and drivers. “Smart” cities can provide data for drivers searching for parking or alerts about closed and restricted road access due to accidents and construction work.
The immensely faster speed through 5G also holds promise for developing and improving autonomous vehicle technology necessary to quickly process changing road conditions.
“AV don’t operate without data coming on and off those vehicles constantly,” Inrix cofounder Bryan Mistele said. “Connectivity to the vehicle has become real.”
Inrix recently unveiled its “smart” traffic technology that offers hyper-accurate, live traffic data for apps and vehicle navigation systems.
While major light rail and bus rapid transit projects are planned in the central Puget Sound area through Sound Transit’s ST2 and ST3, Mistele sees alternative solutions to congestion that 5G can provide in the same vein as ride-sharing companies.
“How many of you think that traffic and transportation has gotten better over the last five years?” he asked rhetorically. “We have a problem, don’t we? When there’s a big societal problem, entrepreneurs step up and try to solve the problem.”